This is a question that is frequently asked of therapists by media. It turns out that couples are mostly fighting about “absolutely nothing”, according to Dr John Gottman. In his research with over 3,000 couples Dr Gottman observed thousands of hours of couples fighting and what he came to see was that couples think they are fighting about wet towels on the floor, or messy kitchens, or a million other day to day things; but what they are actually fighting about is the way they think they are being treated!
We get fooled into thinking that our partner will understand that we feel disrespected when the wet towel is left on the floor if we use logic to convince them not to do it. For example, consider this conversation:
Jim: “Honey you left your wet towel on the floor again” (This is a reasonably good soft start up)
Jane: “So what, it’s just a towel, it is easy to wash it” (This is a little defensive but there is logic in the statement)
Jim: “Well that’s not the point, it’s messy and it could lead to mould developing.” (This is all true and logical too)
Jane: “Come on that’s a bit of an overstatement the towel never stays on the floor for that long.”
Jim: “That’s because I’m the one who always picks it up.”
Jane: “Well, right, what’s your problem then?”
We can all imagine where this conversation is going. Now let’s consider the following conversation:
Wendy: “Honey you left your wet towel on the floor again” (This is a reasonably good soft start up)
Bill: “You’re right, I did. I have never understood why this is so important to you though” (Jim takes some responsibility for his behavior and communicates interest in Jane’s point of view)
Wendy: “Well, I guess I grew up in a house that was always a mess and there were never any dry or clean towels anywhere. I always felt embarrassed and stressed about having friends over and it was just generally a really grotty way to live. I could never really feel comfortable or relaxed with all that mess around. I guess I have always wanted to live in a really clean and tidy house that I could feel totally comfortable and at ease in.”
Bill: “Hmm, well I guess I did grow up in a clean and tidy house, but mum just made it that way, so I guess I never really had to pay too much attention to it.”
Wendy: “Well do you think you could help me out with it a bit more?”
Bill: “Sure honey, I will do my best, but I will probably still forget sometimes, but I’m happy for you to remind me, because it just doesn’t come naturally to me.”
In every relationship, approximately 69% of what we fight about are what Gottman calls Perpetual Problems. These are simply differences between people. Things like:
The important thing about these differences is to learn to accept each other’s differences and rather than fight about them, or try to convert each other to your own way of thinking, learn to understand them, learn to accept influence from your partner about their differences and learn to compromise on these as each situation demands.
During the Art and Science of Love Couples workshop, couples learn how to better manage these differences, how to dialogue about them so that they bring you closer together rather than pushing you further apart.
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